A few concrete things MoFo might do

July 22, 2008 § Leave a comment

Looking back over dozens of online and over-beer conversations, it’s clear the Mozilla Foundation can play an important role in the world. This role is not to oversee or second guess the people producing Firefox, Thunderbird, SeaMonkey, XUL and other technologies that fulfill Mozilla’s mission of keeping the internet open. Meddling with this work doesn’t help anyone. However, the foundation can and should build on this excellent work. It can fill gaps (accessibility). It can connect dots (amongst Mozilla communities). And it can reach out to new groups of people with something to contribute (the next million Mozillians). These are basically things that make Mozilla stronger, but are beyond and between what’s already going on.

The question is: what does this look like concretely? Of all the blog postings from the last few weeks, David Boswell took the best kick at this can. Offer grants and collect donations (yes, and more strategically). Build bridges between people using Mozilla technologies in their own work (yes, and how it happens matters alot). Promote what Mozilla communities are doing (yes, but how do we do it well?). Use our broader community as a laboratory (for sure, and that was what I was dreaming of here). I totally agree that the foundation should be doing stuff like this.

Sorry for repeat posting this. I figured it was important context.

Most of these things focus on the second layer of Mitchell’s community spheres (what she calls ‘community of action’ and I call ‘community of practice’ … we need to get clear on this language). This is the domain of shared tools and practices, which is a critical place for the foundation to play. However, as I have talked to Mozilla people, many have also emphasized things the foundation could do at the outer layers and even at the core of these spheres. I’ve listed a few here.

At the centre of the sphere sit communities producing Mozilla technology products. As above, it’s not the foundation’s job to do or meddle with this work. However, it can do things that build a better environment for the people creating these products. A good example is growing the number of colleges and universities offering community-based Mozilla courses like the one at Seneca. Work like this has the potential to benefit a wide variety of Mozilla communities through code contributions and, more importantly, a bigger contributor talent pool. However, people with heads down on individual products don’t have time to grow something like this, especially as it takes long term investment and nurturing. The foundation could champion this kind of work in open source education — and also further efforts in areas like accessibility and technology research — in a way that benefits core Mozilla communities over the medium and long term.

At the very outer layer of the sphere is a vast community of users: 180 million people who interact with the internet everyday through Mozilla products. These are some of the most likely people in the world to care for and champion the open internet. Yet, a good chunk of them probably don’t know what the open internet is and why it matters. The foundation could play a role in changing this. It could help people understand the issues emerging around data in the cloud. It could explain the role neutral networks play in driving innovation, commerce and community. And it could do these sorts of things in a way that activates, involves and showcases people from across Mozilla’s many communities (think: FirefoxFlicks).

Reaching out like this to casual users of Mozilla products creates the opportunity not only to educate but also to engage. Some percentage of people touched through this sort of outreach will move into Mozilla’s community of interest (the next layer from the edge). They will want to take action in some way. As David Eaves suggests, initial steps to support people like these could be quite simple:

a) greet these newcomers and make them feel welcome; and b) (create) some capacity to point them in the direction of a variety of institutions, organizations, projects and activities, where they can channel their energy.

The foundation could also give these people a simple way to demonstrate their willingness to contribute to the open internet. Maybe this is simply signing a pledge to shows how their work contributes to the goals of the Mozilla Manifesto. Or maybe it is something else. In some ways, the specific approach doesn’t matter. What matters is that people feel a sense of belonging … and that they feel encouraged to stretch themselves to contribute in even more concrete ways. Maybe these people are part of the community laboratory that David B. describes? Who knows? The point is to invite them in and find out.

This is not intended as a definitive list of things the foundation could do. Far from it. Instead, it is meant as an experiment: I wanted to see what it would look like if listed concrete things the foundation could do to add value in all the main spheres where Mozilla communities work.

Of course, the idea with an experiment like this is to create a starting point for seeking further ideas and advice. So: what else? What are the concrete things the foundation can be doing between and beyond existing efforts that also add value to the Mozilla community? I am hoping that the Air Mozilla tomorrow will provide a first chance to take this conversation further. I have no doubt there will be many more.

PS. Sorry for repeating the picture from my previous post. I felt it was worth showing the circles again as context … knowing that this is my view and we still more discussion on these.

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